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Archive for March 2009

Harvey Pekar

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Right now might be the golden age of Cleveland’s poet laureate.  Pekar, who became famous for his Everyman comic American Splendor while working as a hospital clerk, retired from his day job in 2003 (as seen in the movie about his life), and has since upped his output significantly.  Since 2004 Pekar has published 8 original books, 3 of which are collections of American Splendor, which he continues to write.  Also on this list are 2 biographies, 1 autobiography, and 2 collaborative histories, Students for a Democratic Society: A Graphic History, and the recently released The Beats, which tells the (loosely fictionalized) story of Jack Kerouac and his (mostly true) Beatnik compatriots.

The Beats is getting mixed reviews.  While I haven’t read it yet, the complaints I’ve read online (too many liberties with the source text, trudging narration at times) sound familiar.  Last summer I read Students for a Democratic Society, and while much of the book was exciting and rich in content, the latter part of the book, the personal histories, dragged a bit and lacked direction.

Still, it seems a safe bet that The Beats will be worth checking out.  First of all, this is Pekar, an unmatched voice of plainspoken dissent- if anyone should spearhead a discussion on the group that kick started American Counterculture, it’s him.  But more importantly, the rise of “Graphic Histories” over the past few years has been a great boon to sequential art.  Outside of Pekar’s own historical works, there have been solidly and successful graphic versions of The 9/11 Report and Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of American Empire (in which he is drawn like Sam Watterson) to name just a few.  There have also been excellent original graphic histories like Chester Brown’s Louis Riel and Rick Geary’s ongoing Victorian murder series.  Comics as a form lends itself well to history: associating an image with a date or name helps the information stick in the mind, and symbiotic quality of comics offers new ways for the historian to streamline the story he wishes to convey- instead of writing three sentences describing rural life in the 1800s, the same information can be conveyed in a single panel as text block, word balloon, and drawing.

It’s fitting that Pekar, the champion of underground comics in the 70s and 80s, would now be at the vanguard of the graphic history movement.  To quote the man himself, “He’s a real piece of work.”


Written by Peter Kelly

March 24, 2009 at 2:58 pm

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“You’re Watching ‘As The World Turns'”

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The Unfinished,’ an article by D. T. Max in the March 9 issue of The New Yorker, about the life and death of David Foster Wallace, is a must read for fans of the late author.  Max paints Wallace as the archetypal addict, obsessive and neurotic and incapable of ever feeling truly satisfied.  The consistent theme of Wallace’s life, the thing that tied together his depression, alcoholism, and compulsive writing, seems to be the singular drive through which he approached his fixations, so that while he was “dry” when he hung himself back in September, in a way it was the very thing  inside him that had once driven him to drink that finally ended his life.

John Updike once said that there is a “point” to a story as well as a “meaning.”  The example he gave is that the point of King Lear is that men should not retire early, while the meaning is…well, a bit more complicated.  The point of Wallace’s death is that you shouldn’t go off your medication if you need it to function.  But to get literary for a moment (because that’s what DFW would do, right?) , the Meaning of Wallace’s death is that a man can be destroyed by that which gives his life meaning.  We could probably all agree that Wallace would still be around if he had stayed on his meds.  But one could also point out that, had Wallace not become so vexed by his inability to complete his fourth novel (The Pale King) to the impossibly demanding specifications he laid out for himself, he would have never invented reason to go off his Nardil in the first place.  One might make the case that a novel killed David Foster Wallace.  It sounds like a DeLillo book.  Maybe Wallace would have liked that.

Three Excerpts from The Pale King:

Good People

The Compliance Branch

Wiggle Room

BTW, the Charlie Rose interview they mention in the New Yorker article can be seen on Charlie’s website.  Definitely worth watching.

Written by Peter Kelly

March 23, 2009 at 5:04 pm

Paul Westerberg

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There’s a great (kinda old) interview with Paul Westerberg of The Replacements on pitchfork.  In it, he tells a great story about the moment that catalyzed the band’s breakup:

It was that one fucking poster in Europe…if they ever make a movie about us, that was “the moment.” The German promoter comes in and shows us the poster with me, “Paul Westerberg and the Replacements.” In German or whatever. Tommy ripped it in half and said “that’s fucking it” and stormed out. I thought, there it is, we’re done.

The Replacements were a phenomenal alt-rock band during the 80s who were known for their constantly changing sound and unpredictable live show.  If you don’t know, now you know.

Make sure to watch the video above- its from the band’s one appearance on S.aturday N.ight L.ive.  They play very tightly and with a lot of energy, which is impressive since the band was blacklisted after the performance for swearing at the camera, stumbling around on stage, and generally just being absurdly drunk.  The video is pretty hard to find since above variety show is assholes about their video clips (hence the period breaks).

Bonus: Free Album!

Written by Peter Kelly

March 22, 2009 at 6:14 pm